The sweet riddle: Sugar may be the enemy as per many diet fads, but to eschew it entirely is not a good idea

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March 28, 2021 12:30 AM

We just need to be mindful of how much we consume. It's worse when people substitute it with alternatives like aspartame and think they are doing their bodies a favour by guzzling cans of zero-cal sodas and drinks.

Sugar may not have many properties when it comes to health, but its one chief property is to convey flavourSugar may not have many properties when it comes to health, but its one chief property is to convey flavour

The trouble with fad diets is that often they’re backed by hollow research. The word ‘fad’ precedes such habits and yet that doesn’t stop millions from flocking to it, as if some magic mantra will do to their bodies what thousands of years of empirical proof has shown to behave contrarily otherwise. The body works a certain way and attempts to tinker with it in the extreme sense produce drastic and sudden results. But most often, while these results are shortlived, the repercussions can fester for much longer, surfacing even decades after.

One such trend is to eschew sugar entirely. Now, hold on to your carb-riddled angst and allow me to elucidate. Sugar is, I admit, the world’s most legal drug, one with a considerable lead on the second-most legal drug: caffeine. There are no checks on how much one adds to their products even while alcohol and nicotine get taxed. And cannabis? Let’s not even start. But sugar and caffeine march through all doors, not even surreptitiously, but brazenly and unabashedly, as if their names were on top of the VIP list.

In a world growing more obese with each century, and especially in our country, one that is plagued by malnutrition and diseases of affluence at the same time, conscious consumption is the only way to prevent long-term harm. So I understand the need to reduce sugar, watch that caffeine and take steps to eat and live healthier.

But to remove all sugar is not a good idea for multiple reasons. First of all, some is not bad, we just need to be mindful of how much we consume. It’s worse when people substitute it with alternatives like aspartame and think they are doing their bodies a favour by guzzling cans of zero-cal sodas and drinks. Others switch to Stevia, which may be better, but doesn’t deliver the same flavourful richness. Few stick with the real stuff and merely cut down the overall intake, which is the smarter thing to do. Sugar may not have many properties when it comes to health (well, it does, but let’s tuck that away for now), but its one chief property is to convey flavour. Too little and a dessert can seem too bland.

The same happens when one is stingy with salt or the sour element. These are basic catalysts for our sensory receptors and, without them, other flavours (which are primarily olfactory) feel weak and diluted. Chocolate is more chocolatey when tinged with salt, watermelon juice is enhanced with a touch of lemon juice. The same way, sugar brings many flavours to the front. These aren’t just grandma tricks, there’s biochemical science behind it.

So it is with ice creams, shakes, sodas, mixers, chocolates and desserts—all these need sugar. Some more, some get by with lesser, but to limit the sugar content not by taste, but by measuring on a calorie scale is the dullest way to design a product.Sadly, many brands out there seem intent on doing precisely that. The protein sachets from the new brand Habbit are the only ones which didn’t taste like a lab cocktail of amino acids.

However, with their ice cream (sold under the trying-too-hard moniker of ‘Wise Cream’ *shuddder*), in the thrill of being sub-40 calories per serving, I think they forgot to actually taste the final product, which, although creamy, had the flavour intrigue of cardboard. Frankly, I would rather get a good gelato with all its sugary and creamy calorific goodness (Naturals comes to mind; Venezia is another brand I recently tried at the Italian embassy and highly recommend). But instead of gorging on it every day, I’d reduce it to once a week (or fortnight) and have a proper full-blown treat rather than some compromised cup of “looks like ice cream”.

The same logic I extend to colas and desserts. Have the real deal. Just have lesser and less frequently. To think you can eat more of something just because it packs in fewer calories is not the right way to approach health. The joy of enjoying something and how it shows best, even if it be so with sugar or salt, might become a limited indulgence. The dropped frequency will make it much anticipated and that joy, at best ephemeral, will at least be real.

The writer is a sommelier

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